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What Should I Know About Nagorno-Karabakh?

Nagorno-Karabakh is in Azerbaijan, but is located near the Armenian border and has a predominantly ethnic Armenian population.
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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2014
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Nagorno-Karabakh is a disputed nation residing within the nation of Azerbaijan. The region covers 1700 square miles (4400 sq. km), making it a bit larger than the state of Rhode Island. It is within Azerbaijan, but is near the border to Armenia, and has a predominantly ethnic Armenian population.

This region shares most of its early history with Armenia. It was part of the lands claimed by the Kingdom of Armenia is the 6th century BCE, and was subjected to the many invasions that plagued Armenia, passing through the hands of the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, the Mongols, the Persians, the Ottomans, and the Russians.

Following the Russian Revolution, a number of independent states were formed in the region in 1918. Two of these states, the Democratic Republic of Armenia, and Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, fell into immediate conflict. Ethnic conflict between the Azeri and the Armenians, as well as religious conflict between the predominantly Christian Armenians and the predominantly Muslim Azeri, led to skirmishes all along the border, and internal purges of opposition groups. During this conflict, Azerbaijan laid claim to the region.

In 1918 Nagorno-Karabakhians formed their own government, claiming autonomy and failing to recognize control by Azerbaijan, turning instead to their own People’s Government of Karabakh. Azerbaijan, with assistance from the Ottoman Turks, went through and brutally suppressed the Armenians, including those in Nagorno-Karabakh, ultimately exterminating close to 20% of the population.

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Following World War II and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, Azerbaijan again asserted its right to Nagorno-Karabakh, this time with the support of the British. The ethnic Armenians of the area again stated their desire for sovereignty, but the British pushed through the region’s integration with Azerbaijan. By 1920 the region turned to Armenia, stating its desire to be absorbed into the Armenian nation.

When the Soviets took control of Armenia and Azerbaijan, they formally made Nagorno-Karabakh a part of Azerbaijan, as an Autonomous Oblast. For the next 70 years Nargorno-Karabakhians lived under Soviet-controlled Azerbaijan, seeing themselves treated as second-class citizens, with numerous reports of violence against ethnic Armenians in the area.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Nagorno-Karabakh once more began fighting for independence in earnest. Armenia supported fighters with munitions, supplies, and volunteers against the Azerbaijani military. Armenia soon began engaging Azerbaijan traditionally, pushing in to their territory and seizing large amounts of land. The vast majority of Azerbaijani were driven out of the area in the next few years, and Armenia continues to hold a chunk of Azerbaijani land, forming the Lachin corridor to connect Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh.

The military controls the entire region at this point, and a cease-fire was achieved in 1994. Because of the lack of Azerbaijani control over the area, the area has achieved a de facto independence, which it proclaimed officially in 1992, although it remains unrecognized. Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia are very closely connected, with heavy intermingling of trade and politics.

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